Bullying and Gifted Kids

April 6, 2006 PURDUE UNIVERSITY

Study: Gifted children especially vulnerable to effects of bullying”All children are affected adversely by bullying, but gifted children differ from other children in significant ways,” says Jean Sunde Peterson, an associate professor of educational studies in Purdue’s College of Education.

Many are intense, sensitive and stressed by their own and others’ high expectations, and their ability, interests and behavior may make them vulnerable. Additionally, social justice issues are very important to them, and they struggle to make sense of cruelty and aggression. Perfectionists may become even more self-critical, trying to avoid mistakes that might draw attention to themselves.”

Peterson and Karen E. Ray, a doctoral student in counseling psychology, surveyed 432 gifted eighth-graders in 11 states. The students were asked if they had experienced bullying behavior, such as name-calling, pushing, hitting and other physical violence, or teasing about family, grades or appearance.

The researchers found that 67 percent of gifted students had experienced bullying by eighth grade, 16 percent defined themselves as bullies and 29 percent had violent thoughts. Interviewed students described depression, unexpressed rage and school absenteeism as responses to bullying.
http://www.purdue.edu/uns/html4ever/2006/060406.Peterson.bullies.html

Should bullying be something we should pay attention to as parents and advocates for gifted children?
Absolutely.
Find out what information is out there and find ways to support gifted students.

As an educator and an advocate for gifted students, I have been spending the better part of the last 12 months gathering research on this important topic.
We need to work on several fronts. What works?
Comforting the victim, for certain. But our gifted kids know this changes little.
As educators and advocates we need to work on educating and empowering the BYSTANDERS. The bully may very well need counseling as well to deal with what issues drive him/her to bully others.

Here are some great resources that teachers can use in the classroom. I have been using some of my ELD (English Language Development) time each week to do some bibliotherapy.
Bibliotherapy is where you use books to help people. Some of these books already come with discussion questions in the back. They are a great springboard for kids to share their experiences and to do role-playing.

BULLIES ARE A PAIN IN THE BRAIN  by Trevor Romain is a little book filled with illustrations and great discussion points.  You can read and share several pages with a group of students and stop and have a class discussion.
The book has a page of “Do’s and Don’ts” for dealing with bullies. For example. “Do use your best judgement and instincts. Don’t believe that names the bully calls you are true.” It contains a chapter on myths about bullies. It discusses some of the reasons bullies act the way they do.


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One of my favorite series is by Erin Frankel. She has written three books titled: Dare, Weird, and Tough!Weird is written from the point of view of the victim. She doesn’t know why she is targeted and doesn’t know what to do.
It gives a wonderful insight into her feelings of self-doubt and self-consciousness and the lowering sense of worth.


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DARE! is from the point of view of the bystander.
It gives insights into how a nice kid can get dragged into joining in on the bullying.
It also shows how fear and intimidation play into the bystander becoming a victim as well.
Erin Frankel shows how the bystander can feel guilty and powerless and at a loss of what to do.
There are about 10 discussion pages in the back of the book that a teacher can use with a discussion group.

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TOUGH! by Erin Frankel is the same story as Dare! and Weird! but told from the point of view of the bully.
The back of the book shows frank talk about why the bully wants to change.
It also has different activities you can do with your classroom- for example, starting a Kindness Club.
Page 38 has discussion questions to use while reading the book.

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This is one of my favorites. Just as gifted kids get bullied for being weird or different, children with learning difficulties are special targets of bullies as well.
This is a true story of Patricia Polacco’s childhood struggle with dyslexia.
She was a very late reader and was horribly bullied.
I haven’t been able to read this one aloud yet without tearing up.
The class discussion that followed this book was awesome.
We talked about how we could help someone who was struggling with learning and came up with a “lunch bunch” of student volunteers to help tutor struggling students.

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Just Kidding hits the issue of teasing. The main characters are boys and the teasing revolves around recess and after school sports activities.
It has great discussion activities and a recommended reading list at the back of the book.

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Trouble Talk is similar to Just Kidding, but deals with harmful gossip, lying,  rumors and sharing others’ personal information in order to gain status and gain attention.
Some highlights from the highlights for discussion:
“No offense, but....”
Do the words “no offense” make what Bailey said to Keisha any less insulting? Why or why not?Have you ever had anyone say “no offense” to you before saying something negative about you?
How did that make you feel?


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Say Something is a book that really informs the bystander about how important his/her role is in putting a stop to bullying.
There are tips at the back of the book such as:
1. Say something to the person who is getting teased. Just saying “Hi” to someone that you usually don’t hang out with makes a difference.
2. Say something to the bully. Don’t become part of the fight. You might try: “I don’t want to hear that” or “Knock it off” or “That’s not OK”.

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My Secret Bully hits a topic we don’t often talk about…when a close friend is your bully.
Often this type of bullying is triggered by jealousy.
Gifted kids are very talented and have a lot of potential and are often recognized for their achievements.
This makes them a special target for this type of bullying.
Their bullies may begin using social isolation as well as personal verbal jabs. This is called “relational aggression …acts of emotional bullying hidden among tightly knit networks of friends.
The character in this story begins having physical reactions to her bullying such as headaches, stomach aches, depression and anxiety  This is a good platform for discussing more hidden physical effects of bullying.

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Bully by Patricia Polacco touches on cyber bullying and the use of social networking and texting to bully.
It discusses peer pressure and social isolation as well.
It has discussion points about the need to be yourself and the need to fit in.
Another theme is loyalty and friendship.
The story leaves it up to discussion where one of the main characters is trying to decide whether to change schools or  change to a new school district to leave her bullying issue in the past.
This is an option some parents and students have had to face.

Bullying is an age old problem that doesn’t seem like its going away any time soon.
However, more schools are creating anti-bullying programs and are increasing awareness about the problem.
More school districts are creating anti-bulling policies in place to protect students and are holding teachers accountable for taking action against bullies.
Especially important is to have a clear policy on cyber-bullying which takes place outside of school walls but has a definite impact on the well-being of the student and directly affects the student’s academic performance, educational experience  and emotional well-being.
If you are unclear about the policies and procedures your school district has in place regarding bullying, please contact your local school district office and ask to see their policy. You can be an advocate for your child.